This February, the Human Rights Campaign is recognizing American Heart Month by launching a My Heart, My Pride campaign in coordination with the American Heart Association. American Heart Month is a time for spotlighting heart disease and the importance of heart health, and HRC is encouraging LGBTQ people to take pride in their heart by promoting heart-healthy behaviors.
Heart health is particularly important for LGBTQ people — a recent scientific statement from the American Heart Association found that LGBTQ people experience worse cardiovascular (heart) health compared to their heterosexual and cisgender peers. The belief is that the disparity in heart health and various cardiovascular risk factors is driven by our exposure to multiple psychosocial stressors such as discrimination, stigma and expectations of rejection, which can lead to unhealthy coping behaviors and cause psychological and physiological stress reactions that negatively impact health.
The American Heart Association organized its statement around what is known about LGBTQ health as related to Life’s Simple 7, which are seven risk factors that people can improve through lifestyle changes: smoking status, physical activity, weight, diet, blood glucose, cholesterol and blood pressure.
Multiple studies have found that LGBTQ people are more likely to use tobacco than their cisgender, heterosexual counterparts. Smoking can be particularly problematic for people with HIV, as outlined in this infographic by HRC’s HIV and Health Equity program.
The statement also includes the data from a Lambda Legal survey that found that 56% of LGBTQ adults and 70% of transgender or gender non-conforming adults have experienced some form of discrimination from a health care professional. This data point drives much of our work in the Healthcare Equality Index to make health care facilities and providers more LGBTQ inclusive and welcoming.
Other findings include:
“While our report found a number of threats to LGBTQ heart health, there are also a number of steps that LGBTQ people can take to reduce several risk factors and improve their heart health,” said Michael Jardula, M.D. spokesperson for the American Heart Association.
The American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7 program provides resources for people who are interested in quitting tobacco use, managing blood pressure with a heart-healthy diet and reducing weight.
In typical years, heart disease is the leading cause of death both in the U.S. and around the globe. In 2020, however, COVID-19 may have taken the top spot and, unfortunately, the two are interrelated as people with poor cardiovascular health are more likely to develop severe illness from COVID-19. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a report detailing several underlying health conditions, related to and including heart disease, that increase the risk of contracting severe COVID-19 that are more prevalent among sexual minorities than heterosexual individuals, confirming HRC’s previous research.
Now more than ever, it is critical that LGBTQ people take pride in their heart and consider the ways they can take simple steps to improve their heart health.